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Volunteers continue to take pride in the Cape

By Staff | Jun 26, 2015

What started six years ago as a way to keep foreclosed properties from becoming eyesores has continued on as the economy improves and the city’s foreclosures are being bought up.

And those who stepped forward in the beginning have stuck around, including its first volunteer, who just turned 80, even if they don’t have nearly the same amount of work as before.

Take Pride in the Cape has cleaned up nearly 1,200 properties since being formed in 2009. Not only has this group saved the city nearly $3 million in costs, it has saved many homes from becoming unsalvageable.

Among those who signed up was Jean Nagy, who has continued to do her part even as she becomes an octogenarian.

“I had 13 of them near my house. Frank (Cassidy, who was director of code enforcement) told us for the safety of the city to cut the lawn and pick up the palm fronds. I was the first volunteer,” Nagy said. “My neighbor asked me why I was cleaning up next door and I told him code enforcement told me to.”

Today, she remains one of the forces of that group.- and without whom the group would have a hard time replacing as she does more than cleaning up.

“She is the lifeblood of that organization. She’s a consummate volunteer and takes so much pride in what she does,” said Gloria Tate, who was on the city council when the group formed. “She goes to businesses, puts up fliers. She’s extraordinary.”

Tate came up with the idea during the foreclosure crisis as more people were forced to leave their homes, the grass and shrubs growing and yards becoming unsightly.

“Neighbors were complaining about properties. We said if you’re going to complain, is there anything you can do to make a difference,” Tate said. “Next thing we know we had a group of volunteers to work with the city to start a lawnmowing business, basically.”

Cassidy had a big hand in putting it together, going to churches and schools to enlist help.

The problem was getting the banks to allow the group to work on their properties, since it was considered trespassing. After the banks on board, the group took on a life of its own. Many high school kids in search of volunteer hours came to lend a hand.

Waste Pro also came aboard to help finance the effort as the volunteers were then paying expenses from their own pockets.

According to Robert Dudley, who organizes the effort, the volunteers worked on as many as 40 homes a month at its peak. He even considered an “Adopt-a-Lot” concept.

Now, with few foreclosures, the group works on, perhaps, two properties every other week. Core volunteers, which numbered as high as 20, have dwindled to five.

“We got together every Friday and Saturday and we were tickled when we got to 100. We did this for more than four years,” Dudley said. “Now we’re running out of properties, and that’s good.”

Code enforcement, which sent the group to the foreclosed homes that were becoming decrepit, continues to feed the group assignments.

Dudley still remembers the bad old days. One day, he was walking down the street and saw three empty beer cans and three full beer cans.

“I said somebody needs to tell these people they need to drink the beer before you throw it out the window,” Dudley said. “I also found nine full bottles of Corona. I said any beer you have to put fruit in to make a drink, I’d probably throw it out, too.”